Let the penalty fix the “crime”

shame hands face coveredHere we go again…

A month after the Board of Ordained Ministry in Pennsylvania stripped Rev. Frank Schaefer of his ordination credentials for officiating at his son’s wedding and refusing to state he would follow the entirety of the Book of Discipline in the future, the United Methodist Church is back at it again.

The New York Annual Conference announced the date of March 10 as the beginning of the trial of Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree. Like Rev. Schaefer, Rev. Dr. Ogletree is an ordained United Methodist Elder. Like Schaefer, he has a son who is gay. Like Schaefer, he officiated at his son’s wedding. In addition, Rev. Dr. Ogletree is a former professor and Dean at a Divinity School in Connecticut, oh, right, Yale, and before that Drew. Where he taught such irrelevant courses as theological ethics and Christian social ethics. And literally wrote the book in the church’s witness to the world– Oh, just read about him here.

At least one friend has compared the coming trial to that time that the Ministry of Magic tried to interrogate Professor Dumbledore. Not a bad comparison.

I don’t want to get in to all that right now.

These trials have a sort of fatalistic nature to them. We all assume that the persons on trial will be found guilty. I’m not sure this should be the case– after all, the church says we can’t officiate at same-sex weddings, but does not take time to define sex, or explain how, in the absence of legal background checks, medical screenings and examinations, hormonal and chromosomal lab results and so on, a pastor is supposed to determine such. But I digress.

Let’s assume for a moment that Rev. Dr. Ogletree is found guilty of violating the unjust law as laid out in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. Where the real interest lies is in the sentencing.

Some clergy members who have been found guilty of such violations have their credentials revoked, as was the case with Rev. Schaefer (legal or not). But in 2011, the jury in the Wisconsin Annual Conference sentenced Rev. Amy DeLong (found not guilty of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” but guilty of officiating a same-sex wedding) with a twenty day suspension, and then charged her to research and write a paper addressing the nature of the clergy covenant, how it has been harmed and how it might be healed.

The old saying goes, let the punishment fit the crime. But DeLong’s “punishment” seemed more intended to fix or at least address the root problems in the alleged “crime.”

What if the jury in Rev. Dr. Ogletree’s trial took that approach? What if they used this opportunity not to punish Ogletree or scare others into compliance with laws they find unjust (how’s that working for ya?), but to address root problems in this issue?

Specifically, I would like to see the jury, should they find Rev. Dr. Ogletree guilty of a violation of unjust church law, instruct him to create or propose a system for dealing with charges that persons are self-avowed practicing homosexuals or have officiated at same-sex weddings, in ways other than trials. Church trials are a waste of time, money, human resources, and spiritual strength. They show the watching world that The United Methodist Church is divided and broken, and no better able to live together in difference and brokenness than middle schoolers on the playground. Yes, they highlight the injustices in the system and as such become a force for eventual change, but I fear there won’t be much of a church left by the time they’ve accomplished that work. If only we had a former Dean of a theological school, a professor of Christian ethics, an author who has researched the church’s witness to the world on social issues, and a pastor and parent with life experience to reflect with us on these things!

So that’s my modest proposal for the jury in the Ogletree trial: Find Rev. Dr. Ogletree guilty if you must (although try to see if you can get your terms and concepts around sex and sexuality and gender and gender identity somewhat consistent if you can). But then consider the injustice of the letter of the law. Consider the pain to the whole church and the whole world for as long as the world is still listening to anything remotely called “church.” Consider the resource and gift of the person in front of you.

Seek the Middle Way. Remain in connection. Work for justice and for healing.

Let the punishment at least try to start fixing the crime.

Embodiment and Authenticity (Talking Taboo)

taboo coverOver a year ago, I wrote an essay for an amazing compilation, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (Erin Lane & Enuma Okoro, eds), which officially launches today. I’m overjoyed to be included in this book, a huge collaborative effort, and looking at the other authors I’m humbled and a little confused as to why I got to be part of something so cool. My copy came in the mail on Friday, and I excitedly tore into it.

And quickly realized that much has changed for me in the past eighteen months or so. And I don’t just mean my name.

My essay, “The Pastor has Breasts,” dances in the dynamics of pregnancy, pregnancy loss, breastfeeding, and embodiment as they intersect with personal boundaries. It’s the story of two congregations, three pregnancies, and one scary incident where my lived, embodied authenticity contributed to me feeling too vulnerable and unsafe. I hope people read it not as a cautionary tale about being too approachable or “human,” but as a wrestling with the struggle of embodiment and authenticity in a space and a vocation where those are still challenging and potentially unsafe, particularly for women.

I don’t regret the words I wrote, or the story I shared. I think my essay has an important place in this compilation, standing in dialogue with other essays about one’s body and/or about pastoral roles. Surely there are new and relevant stories I can tell from today’s vantage point (and someday may), although other women have written about divorce and relationships, so I’d be in different conversations within the collection.

But the biggest difference I see now is how my story about physical authenticity and vulnerability is a metaphor or  perhaps an illustration of a larger theme in my life. Just as I embrace my femaleness and my body, not apologizing for the “discomfort” people may feel when forced to deal with the physical reality of who I am, I also strive to be honest about my life and the situations I am going through. In each case, this real-ness is not only something I personally value, but it runs the risk of putting me in situations where I feel more vulnerable– sometimes more vulnerable than I want to be. Coming through separation and divorce and entering into single parenthood in a way that has been public and honest was only somewhat of a choice; there was very little I could hide about my struggle even if I wanted to. The result is that I’m open to support and critique, solidarity and prying questions, affirmation and painful rebuff.

If I had the essay to write over, I’d draw out this connection, and talk about how physical and emotional vulnerability intersect in ways both beautiful and damaging. I think this is true for all of us, and might only be elevated in the lives and experiences of women. For me, it’s not a commitment I’d ever want to back down from. I believe authenticity is important and I wouldn’t know how to live, much less minister, in any other way. That this embodiment and authenticity come with vulnerability is a given; that this vulnerability can be too much or even dangerous to physical or emotional well-being is a reason for pursuing strength and wholeness, not for shutting down.

Other things I’d change, now that I’ve seen the published book:

I didn’t realize how many of the contributors come from more conservative, evangelical backgrounds and denominations/sects. These contexts have shaped their experiences profoundly, and many of their essays convey the dissonance between where they may have started and where they have come. My writing takes for granted that I’m steeped in mainline to liberal protestant Christianity, which is fine because that is my context. However, there are things I gloss over about that, and seeing it as part of a compilation now, I’d have done more to name the relative openness of United Methodism to women as leaders and pastors, and the progressive theology that is my oxygen, from which statements like breastfeeding my daughter in the sanctuary was sacramental come.

I’d have left out the Reverend in my name in my bio, seeing as no one else used it where applicable, and now I feel stuffy. I would of course have changed my last name entirely (the legal change happened even after the very last last last proof went to print), but I am glad I did not excise evidence of my then husband from the piece. He was and is part of the story.

I’d have submitted a better picture, without a robe. But hey, I was distracted at the time, and felt horrible about both my body and my life. I didn’t have a lot of pictures of me smiling. Too vulnerable? Too real?

My learning continues.

Looking for a place to purchase Talking Taboo?

1. Let me know if you’d like to buy a (n autographed) copy from me and I can order up a box to sell and share.

2. Contact a bookstore near you and ask them to carry the book– this is great for spreading the word!

3. Buy from the publisher, White Cloud.

4. Buy from Amazon.

Follow more conversation from the editors and contributors at the Talking Taboo blog (webetalkingtaboo), and on Twitter #TalkingTaboo.

Diary of a Delegate: Days Four and Five- Let me be full, let me be empty

Twitter topic cloud for Friday 4/27 from @andrewconard

When Bishop Weaver gave his episcopal address a few days ago, he concluded by inviting us to share in the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer, which contains the phrase “let me be full; let me be empty…”

The past two days have been both full and empty.You’ll note that I don’t distinguish between the two days or what we did which day; I honestly can’t tell them apart.

The daytime hours have been filled with subcommittee and committee work (in rooms empty of even cell signal…). From the very beginning, it was clear that my subcommittee, dealing with issues of reproductive rights, was going to be a very conservatively-tipped body. Most of the votes, when we came to voting, split 14 to 9 in favor of conservative positions. However, we worked an entire day in a very collaborative way, rewriting the Book of Discipline‘s paragraph on abortion. At the end of the day, we had crafted something of which I am proud– and it needed only two changes to keep it from being a decided step back for women’s rights. Both amendments were made in the full committee, and in my opinion the petition we are supporting is an improvement to the current language in the BOD. I was filled with a sense of achievement for what we did together.

But on the issues related to GLBT inclusion and rights, we took major losses. Despite passing the most progressive legislation through sub-committee, the main committee of Church and Society B voted down any and all changes to the denomination’s stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. We will bring the fight to the plenary floor as well, so it’s not officially over yet, but at the lunch break after the vote, I sobbed uncontrollably in the arms of Will Green, as he sobbed in mine, and then I did the whole thing again with Annie Britton. My dear, dear friends and colleagues in ministry, two of the most clearly gifted pastors I have ever encountered.

Someone put food in front of me and I ate it, but I have no memory of what it was. In fact, I’ve eaten so little and walked so much this week that I have dropped 3 pounds. My body feels empty.

Twitter topic cloud for Saturday 4/28 from @andrewconard

At one point in my committee work, I was so filled with rage I could barely speak; (presumably) straight white male delegates called for a vote by standing– as opposed to paper ballots or raised hands, “to expedite our voting.” This request was raised for the first time when we read the first piece of legislation that contained the word “transgender.” One old white man said “I vote my conscience and it doesn’t matter who is watching; it’s a matter of integrity.” Easy for you to say since the system is built to serve and protect you, (insert colorful descriptor here). The chair overruled the request eventually, and after the paper ballot was taken and the legislation protecting transgendered persons from violence was passed, I called for a moment of person privilege and laid the smack down from the mic. I said that the transgender community has suffered more harassment, humiliation, and violence at the hands of the church and the wider community than any other, and that calling for a standing vote on so vulnerable an issue was not about expediency, but bullying and intimidation of the highest order. I ended by saying that a vote won by intimidating others into silence would not be progress toward any end but an evil one.

Finally, as I could have predicted, the full committee voted to withdraw the united Methodist Church from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (which, when you think about it, is ironic, since withdrawal is no guarantee…). What was most frustrating about this vote is that a conservative delegate presented “research” she had done off the internet, and it was factually inaccurate complete and utter lies. She said the RCRC opposed any restrictions on late term abortion (they, like the UMC, support them only if the mother’s life is in danger), had made no changes in the policy and focus of being solely pro-abortion (they have, after much conversation with the UMC, shifted focus to maternal and fetal health, contraception, education, and advocacy for access to safe, legal abortions when they are needed), and that they support the work of pagan witch doctors (yeah, I dunno). But when we tried to bring a person who actually worked with the RCRC to speak, they would not let the “witness” if you will give testimony. Lies and dirty tricks, and women around the world– particularly those without health care and family support– will pay the price.

That was the last action of the day, and after all of that, my overwhelming feeling was emptiness. Shock. Numbness. Emptiness.

I left it all on the field, every ounce of energy, creativity, hope, and connection. We will live to resurrect some legislation for another day, and make our case on the plenary floor for full inclusion and the protection of women’s rights. But in that moment, there was nothing.

Later, again out with friends, I was filled with laughter, and the smallest glimmer of hope.

Today, we stand in recess for the Sabbath. Church continues, sermons are preached, justice marches onward, if not always in places we can see.

Love, Norms, and Heterosexual Priveledge

Kurt and Blaine in "The Purple Piano Project" (screencap). I admit I chose this picture mainly for the bicep.

I don’t think it’s any big secret that I am an enormous fan of the Fox show “Glee.”

While the show contains much that is campy, cheesy, and cartooney, it also has several wonderful factors, which I early on decided were 1. Sue Sylvester (such incredibly snarky, wonderful, sarcastic writing), 2. Will Schuester (a character and actor who is my age so I could feel less creepy, and the best-looking man in the cast– or at least he was until part way into season two when the guy I’d started crushing on the moment I saw his viral YouTube Harry Potter fan musical joined the cast and introduced me to my mantra of “he’s 25, he’s 25, he’s 25”), and 3. Kurt Hummel, whose story of finding his voice and coming into his own as the tormented outcast with the single parent who is an absolute saint both moves me and conjures up memories of middle school.

But the best part about “Glee” is the way, in the midst of all the silliness and drama and total lack of realistic high school portrayals, they manage to make the audience push edges and question assumptions. In little glimpses of poignant, honest moments, viewers are stretched. Sure, there are the obvious ones about teenage drinking and sexual activity and gay and lesbian characters. But here in my liberal, progressive tower, I was sure I was above such things. So the writers throw me for a loop with “Born This Way,” when characters don’t self-identify the characteristics I’d have named as their biggest hurdles, or with doses of sympathy toward characters like Sue and Karofsky (but never Sebastian, I swear it!), or as early as the fourth episode, forcing me to confront my assumption that the man who wore flannel and a baseball cap and changed tires for a living was going to freak when his son came out to him. Think again.

Blaine and Kurt are the model couple in "I Kissed a Girl" (screencap)

And now the show has me thinking about heterosexual privilege.

For years, my gay and lesbian friends have bemoaned the difficulty of watching movies and television shows where the principle (or only) couples portrayed were straight. While I effortlessly lost myself in the romance, my friends lifted challenges. With whom does one identify? How weird it feels to simultaneously want to be the leading lady and want to be the man romantically involved with her. How demeaning that gay characters, if presented at all, are caricatures or exaggerations, often intended for comic relief, with relationships to be pitied or analyzed rather than emulated.

But in “Glee,” Kurt and Blaine present an alternative.

One of–  if not *the*– strongest couples on the show, Kurt and Blaine (or “Klaine” for the die-hard fans) have a relationship based in friendship and mutual respect, honesty and walking side by side through challenges (from haters and would-be lovers to competition to the tribulations of high school), frank conversations about sex and sexuality, and deep commitment to living and loving exactly as they are. They are often the ideal couple, modeling stability and integrity to other couples and singles on the show. In fact, compared to Klaine, the heterosexual couples in the show are a mess, a constant jumble of drama. The next-most committed and established couple I would argue are Brittany and Santana, two girls (only kept apart for so long because of Santana’s reticence to come out). Finn and Rachel, the “power couple” of the show, have more bumps than a Vermont road in March, and frankly, it’s pretty annoying to watch.

Hosting the holiday spectacular at their "bachelor pad" in "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" (screencap)

But Kurt and Blaine are magic. And it’s not because Kurt addresses and heals my inner middle school reject (although he does), and it’s not because Blaine is simply drool worthy (Darren Criss is 25, he’s 25, he’s a young but totally legal 25…). It’s because they have a relationship that is beautiful, and fun to watch, that I want to root for and be a part of, just like any other time I snuggle up in front of a romantic comedy and dreamily lose myself in the eyes of the leading man, placing myself in his paramour’s place.

In short, watching “Glee” makes me dream of being Kurt.

A gay man.

This is a rather new and somewhat disconcerting feeling, if I’m honest.

And knowing and naming that makes me realize quite clearly how awkward and strange it must be for glbt individuals to watch just about anything else, where the assumptions about normal and happily ever after never look anything like them, only and always like me. That’s not okay.

So for all its silliness and hype and despite the very real issue I take with inappropriate student-teacher boundaries (or lack thereof) presented in “Glee,” I love it, because it challenges me and invites me to step out of my comfort zone and walk a mile in Kurt’s (often fabulous) shoes, or the shoes of any other person who doesn’t live inside the comfortable bubble of my heterosexual privilege.

And have I mentioned that I think Blaine is cute HOT? And 25.

Risky Business

Ministry is a wonderful vocation, a calling, a journey. It is also a job, and it has occupational hazards that are pretty well known. Stress and overeating, and caffeine addiction, perhaps. But there are some pretty obvious risks associated with being accessible to the public and trying to help those on the edge. We hear horror stories about it from time to time, but I know I at least try to brush those stories aside because I don’t want to dwell on them. We can, however, learn and prepare at least a little, and so shouldn’t totally ignore the risks.

sketch of my office layout

I had my own fright this week, and some things went well, and others can go better next time.

A young man came into my office and asked to speak with me privately. He asked if he could close the door. This is not an unusual request, and the door between my office and the church office has a large window in it to provide both privacy in conversation and safety for everyone for just such occasions. He did begin sharing some pretty personal stuff, and it certainly was appropriate to close others out of that conversation.

It should be noted, however, that my 8 month old son, who was sitting in his high chair next to me as I fed him some lunch, began crying almost as soon as the young man came in. Kids are brilliant.

I assessed my visitor, as I do– consciously or subconsciously– for every person who comes into my office. Younger than me. My height, maybe. Heaver. Also a bit slower, which would be my advantage. Facial tick. Slightly slurred speech. No smell of alcohol. Brown, fast-moving eyes and minimal eye contact, making the pupils hard to estimate.

I assessed my environment, which is pretty unchanging, but set up to give me as much safety as the room affords. He was sitting in the chair across from me, between me and the primary exit (the door with a window). This is where all my guests sit, because I can see them coming, and they also need to feel safe and not cornered. Door to my right– my secondary exit– unlocked as it always is when I’m in my office, leading to a room filled with 50+ people eating a community meal. Between me and the door, Will was in his high chair, strapped in, and I was sitting behind my desk.

Our conversation focused on the young man’s life story and his needs, which I believe were totally legitimate, and some of which certainly came from some untreated medical concerns. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to help him obtain funds for either shelter or medication that he needed; I could only offer him food and clothing and try to refer him to some other places.

And then the conversation changed. He mentioned that he had some trouble in the past with “sexual behaviors.” He followed that immediately with a couple of comments about my body.

Time to go.

I said I was sorry I couldn’t be of more help, and I wished him well, and it was time to be moving on.

He stood up, and looked out the window in the door toward the outer office. I saw what he saw register in his posture. He grew more confident. Cocky. No one was out there. We were alone.

And he knew it.

He came toward me around the desk, arms outstretched, still talking about my body. No time to unstrap the baby and run. I stood (I do have an inch or so on him), and stepped out from behind the desk toward him, placing myself between him and Will. As he moved in for an embrace of sorts, I caught his upper arms, holding him back a bit. He did get in a bit of a hug, and tried to lay his head on my chest. “Whoa,” I said, “That’s enough.” He tried to get closer and get his arms around me, but I pushed back, and broke him away. “Time to go. Don’t forget your backpack,” I said. He was still talking, apologizing and babbling, and I said again. “Good luck to you. Time to go.”

He left.

I closed the door again behind him, and locked it, and locked the other door and had myself a little freak out moment. Then I went out and called a retired clergyman in from the other room and had a freak out moment with him. And I was pretty much okay. I made some calls to alert other folks, and eventually, after consultation with my husband, filed an incident report with the police.

I am okay. Will and the church administrator and all the other people in the building are okay.

Here are the things I had working in my favor:

– a pre-planned and accessible secondary exit; I insist on keeping this open and accessible. I don’t know what I’d do in an office without a second egress. It’s not my fire escape; it’s my assault escape.

– an outer office that usually has someone in it, and a room full of people on the other side of the door, within shouting distance.

– An inch of height, and a lot of adrenaline, especially when standing in front of my baby.

– I’d thought about it.

– unbeknown to me, a canary, with a canny read of peoples’ vibes, even though he’s pre-lingual.

What I didn’t have:

– an alert strategy with the administrator in the outer office; we now have a plan in place whereby we will have phones on and at our elbows, set to text SOS at a moment’s notice. She will interrupt my meeting with a “pressing situation,” and I will do the same for her. We will not leave the offices, and certainly not without our phones.

– an alarm or panic button; the church is talking about this. Even something that makes a loud noise, whether or not it rings at the police station, would be enough to give someone like this pause.

– a taser, pepper spray, or other personal defense mechanism; I don’t think I want something like that at this time.

– testosterone; I don’t play the poor weak female card often, but I doubt this happens the same way if it’s a man in the pastor’s chair. Whether in this guy’s mind, or in the minds of our culture, the fact remains that my church is usually staffed exclusively by two young women. Strong, rugged, in your face Vermont women, but two women nonetheless. And a baby. There are those who would think of us as sitting ducks.

– a plan for what to do with Will– running away works well for me, but is impractical if I have to pause to unbuckle, disentangle, or otherwise gather my 8 month old.

We can never be prepared for all scenarios– someone armed and with murderous intent is pretty much unstoppable in any environment– but thinking out my defenses and my escape routes and the layout of the room gave me some confidence in this situation. A little brute strength didn’t hurt (thanks again, Will, for the regular bicep curls with a 20 lb weight). We want to believe the best about others, but need to be wise as serpents even if we are innocent as doves.

What precautions do you take in your workplace? What do you do to make it and/or your church a safe place for staff and visitors alike?

On the murder of Dr. Tiller

I doubt any of my blog readers are waiting with baited breath to see what my opinion is on the murder– in his church– of Dr. Tiller, a medical professional who provided late-term abortions. I’m betting you probably know what I’m going to say. But just in case you want my theological and pastoral opinion.

This is as literalistic as I get: Thou. Shall. Not. Kill.

Yeah, that sums it up.

What, you ask, do I think the church’s response to abortion should be, since I clearly don’t think we should be in the business of advocating for the murder of doctors? I believe that people of faith should not spend time trying to make abortion illegal. We should strive, through advocacy and assistance for women before, during, and after pregnancy, through the support of medical research and assistance, through support of all families no matter what they look like and where biological and adoptive parental lines fall, to render abortion unnecessary. Safe. Legal. An option. But laregely an unnecessary one.

[edited to add: before you click on the comments– please, sisters who have experienced miscarriage, be advised that one comment contains what I found to be graphic langage on the subject. For all who would comment, I am implementing this rule: No graphic descriptions. Life is fragile at all points of the journey. When dealing with this sensitive subject, I request– no, here on my space I demand– gentleness, compassion, and respect for one another. Failing that, I ask for your silence.]

Pastors and Sexual Advice

I tried to go without commenting on this, but found that I couldn’t resist. And yes, that means I run the risk of doing the very thing I’m advising against.

Generally, I think it’s not a good idea for pastors to get involved in giving sexual advice, certainly not to large crowds at a time. I mean our intimate lives are, well, intimate, and maybe advice about sex is best saved for marriage counseling sessions. Call me a prude (but I bet my congregants are breathing sighs of relief right about now).

But Pastor Ed Young from the Fellowship Church feels otherwise. And I will grant that he deserves major, major credit for being frank and relevant about sex, which Christianity has a bit of a reputation for ignoring or worse. Pastor Young recently challenged his (married) congregants to strengthen their marriages and their overall quality of life by having sex  for seven consecutive days. Now, let’s leave aside for the moment that at least half of my congregation are singles– he told his singles to ‘eat chocolate cake’– and the fact that he and his wife proudly testified to their near-success in this challenge (which, I mean, is not something I’d like to share from a pulpit) I see at least two issues here.

Seven consecutive days? That seems to place a focus rather more on quantity than quality, and I don’t think that is a positive step for a marriage. Can relationships benefit from increased physical intimacy? Sure. But not if it is a bit of an obligation. That strips the spontaneity and a fair amount of the romance and sexiness out of the moment.

I’m trying very hard to not make this a gender thing, but some people (some are men and some are women) measure their satisfaction in their marriage or relationship or intimate life by sexual markers (quantity and/or quality), while others do not. Put simply, you can have a whole lot of sex and not improve the quality of your relationship if either you or your partner doesn’t measure closeness and satisfaction that way. Would you not be better served by attuning to your partner’s needs and desires– physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, however– than assuming that just because the person speaking enjoys sex and finds that it strengthens his marriage, you should too?

But probably the kicker here is the source. Can you imagine how that gets played out in congregants’ homes?

“Honey, are you ready for a little ‘intimate time’?”
“Aw, not tonight; I’m frankly kind of bored of it since we’ve been at it the past five days.”
“But, baby, Pastor said we should.”

Going out on a limb, but I think any sexual proposition that contains the phrase ‘pastor said so’ is bound for failure.

You want my advice to couples?

For seven consecutive days, spend quality time with your significant other, doing something you or they enjoy (which may or may not be a physical something, and I’ll bet when the physical something does happen–and it will– the quality is improved for both partners). Watch a movie *while sitting together*, cook a delicious meal, play a card game, go dancing, take a walk holding hands, whatever. And the best part? Singles can spend quality time doing the things they enjoy, too. Paint, read, (ice) fish, treat yourself to dinner, spend time with a loved one, turn your music up loud and boogie till you drop. Point is, in this hectic, frenzied season, take time once a day for the next week to do the things you love by yourself or with the people you love. And hey, if sex is what you love, go for it. But if you and your partner enjoy a to-the-death match in Scrabble, that can in many ways be just as special if you’ve intentionally taken the time to put your own well-being and the well-being of your relationship first on your list.

So go on, treat yourselves well. Pastor said so.

(Stained) Glass Ceilings

Sarah Palin, eat your heart out; I’m shattering a glass ceiling or two on my own ’round here.

My little congregation in Plainfield has had several women– young women, even– as pastors before, but at the larger church in Montpelier, I am the first woman and the youngest person to sit behind the pastor’s desk. Leaving aside, at least for a time, observations as to why it might have taken so long, there are some exciting things about breaking a mold or two. Like the double-takes around town when I wear my funny collar, or the sudden interest when someone mentions that their new pastor is a young woman.

I want to stress that this has not been An Issue with the congregation. In fact, none of them have so much as mentioned it. I was told by a retired pastor, although the Office Manager and I had pretty much figured it out.

Now as a young pastor and as a woman, I believe I bring some specific gifts to this ministry. I blog, for instance, something more common amongst young’uns (although not limited to us). I think that I have an ability to do what I call emotional muti-tasking, that is, I can name, give room for, and process an emotional response, say, anxiety (my own or others’), and at the same time say, “great, well, despite feeling anxious about this, we really need to get down to business.” This is something at which I think many women excel, but again, it is by no means limited to us.

But just now, I’m mostly evidencing my skills in the field of interior decorating (again, some of the best decorators I know are men, but apparently, none of them have pastored in Montpelier). You see, the office that I came into was, well. Dark. Stale. Plain. I believe Office Manager extraordinaire Kimberley referred to it as a ‘man cave.’

We took down the heavy drapes (using a butter knife as a screwdriver, since the rod was bolted to the wall, and I’m handy too, so there for gender stereotyping), and put up some sheer fabric. We washed the window panes, which also let in more light. I brought in plants. I lit scented candles. I arranged my books with little pieces of decor in between them. I moved the desk. I asked intentional questions of myself, like, “what’s the most inviting way to arrange this space?”

Everyone who has walked in has commented on the difference. How bright and friendly and welcoming the office suddenly is. A former pastor, over the phone with Kimberley, was moved to defend his own decor: “My office was inviting, too!” To which she replied, “No, you were inviting. Your office was too messy for people to find a chair.” Ah, poor M. But they still love you.

“Why didn’t anyone else think to put the desk there? Or make it so bright?” someone asked me. I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to reply “because they were boys.” Unfair and sexist of me, that is.

But come on, and ‘fess up to your gendered ideas. Ladies, what gifts to you think you bring as a female to your particular work? Gents, fight back! Tell about your mad decorating skillz or what other gifts you think are your particular masculine forte.